Congratulations everybody, we made it! Another international break has been safely negotiated and we are back in Premier League action this weekend. It all kicks off on Saturday when Liverpool travel to take on Manchester City at lunchtime, in what is, without a doubt, the tie of the round. The match at the Etihad Stadium is an eagerly anticipated fourth vs second, with the winners of the showdown heading to the top of the league, for a couple of hours at least. It’s hard to separate the two teams and although the bookies have City as the odds on favourite, the Reds haven’t lost this fixture in 90 minutes, since 2014. Let’s take a look at what we can expect from the upcoming clash.
Team News – Liverpool
After the 4-0 drubbing of Arsenal last time out, many Liverpool fans would be thinking “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, but I do expect Jurgen Klopp will make a couple of changes this time round. Starting at the back, Klopp made the controversial decision to “rest” Simon Mignolet for the Arsenal game and opted for Loris Karius, a goalkeeper who needs to win many Scousers round again. Despite keeping a clean sheet, Karius didn’t have much to do and continued to look shaky between the sticks, especially with the ball at his feet. There were a couple of occasions where he could’ve been dispossessed inside his own box and any resulting goal would’ve sent the game in a completely different direction. Mignolet will be sufficiently rested, as Thibaut Courtois was preferred to him for both of Belgium’s qualifying matches this week. If Klopp goes for Karius again, it would suggest that a falling out may have taken place between the boss and Mignolet, but I seriously doubt that is the case.
Disappointingly, Liverpool failed to sign a centre-back during the window, so expect to see Joel Matip and the inconsistent Dejan Lovren form a partnership once again. Lovren will have to be at the top of his game, as Manchester City’s frightening attack could leave the travelling fans hiding behind their programmes. On the right-hand side, Nathaniel Clyne is still out for the foreseeable future, so Joe Gomez should slide into the backline, only just edging out Trent Alexander-Arnold, although there really isn’t too much to choose between the two youngsters. Over on the left, I’d like to see Andy Robertson make the starting XI once again, as he missed the Arsenal match to be at the birth of his first child. The Scotland star showed both his defensive and offensive prowess during his single Premier League appearance this season against Crystal Palace and I believe he could end up being one of our best players this season. Although Alberto Moreno has shown vast improvements since this time last year, he still looks like a toddler who has ingested too much sugar, as he tears around, all over the field. This leads him vulnerable to mistakes which is something that cannot be afforded when playing a team of City’s calibre.
There will likely be no changes in midfield, which means there is no room for new signing, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Instead, Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can will team up once again to form one of the most solid central-midfield teams in the Premier League. Wijnaldum has fond memories of playing against Man City, as his headed goal in the eighth minute was enough to see Liverpool to a 1-0 victory on New Years Eve last year, just his second league goal for the club. Oxlade-Chamberlain will start the game as a substitute, probably at the expense of Marko Grujic and I do think we will see him at some point during the encounter.
Everyone will be looking to see if Philippe Coutinho features in this team, after his performances for Brazil proved that he is over the back injury that forced him to miss the start of the season. However, it is probable that there will also be no changes to the front three as it is too soon and too big of a game, to thrust him back into the action. Instead, he should be named as a substitute as the slow process of integrating him back into the squad begins. Mo Salah put in a Man of the Match display against Arsenal and we can expect more of the same. His blistering pace is a constant threat and the way he pairs perfectly with Sadio Mane on the opposite flank, is enough to cause any defence in the world all sorts of issues. Roberto Firmino should nicely round out the attacking trio and all three of them will be eager to get back on the scoresheet again. Daniel Sturridge is a key weapon to have coming off the bench and Dominic Solanke will be itching to make his first league appearance for the club, on such a big stage.
Predicted Lineup: Mignolet; Robertson, Lovren, Matip, Gomez; Wijnaldum, Henderson, Can; Mane, Firmino, Salah
Team News – Manchester City
An interesting decision to look forward to is whether Pep Guardiola elects to start Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus. The experienced Argentinian found himself on the bench against Bournemouth, with the young Brazilian playing centre-forward in the 4-3-3 formation. Both players have picked up a single goal each this campaign and the absence of Raheem Sterling could force Guardiola’s hand. He may have to revert to the 5-3-2 formation he’s already used this year. This will see both Aguero and Jesus start alongside each other, something that has already raised questions during Jesus’ short spell in the Premier League. Sterling will be unavailable to face his former club after his injury time sending off against Bournemouth. He scored the late winner and was booked for a second time after jumping into the crowd as a part of the celebrations. Manchester City will be disappointed that they can’t call upon Alexis Sanchez to replace the Englishman, because the deadline day deal for the Chilean fell through at the last minute. Instead, we would expect Leroy Sane to be the man who starts instead of Sterling, if they play the more attacking 4-3-3 formation.
Kyle Walker will come back into the team following his one game suspension after being sent off against Everton. Walker should slot in at the right-wing back position and his main task will be doing his best to keep Mane quiet. Liverpool have struggled in recent years against teams that come out very defensively, so should City play five at the back, it is probable they will look to sit very defensively, soak up the pressure and then use Walker and Danilo as catalysts for a counter attack. If Liverpool come out of the blocks quickly and snatch an early goal, it would force City to change their tactics and make the game a much more exciting spectacle. Otherwise we could be in for a very stodgy affair.
Manchester City could be without their captain, Vincent Kompany after the Belgian sat out Sunday’s match against Greece. Kompany has suffered with a reoccurring calf injury over the last few seasons and it appears it has flared up again, while he was on international duty. He also missed training on Wednesday and is continued to be monitored by medical staff. Pep Guardiola will have to make a last minute decision based on Kompany’s fitness levels. It will be good news for Liverpool if the centre-back misses out, as Eliaquim Mangala will come into the starting lineup for his first appearance this season.
Predicted Lineup: Ederson; Otamendi, Stones, Kompany; Danilo, Walker; Fernandinho, David Silva, De Bruyne; Jesus, Aguero
Both teams have an incredible amount of firepower up front, but have weaknesses at the back. Liverpool seem to home the more fragile of the defences, despite keeping six clean sheets in their last seven PL games, but their incredible recent record against top six teams will see them put up a strong challenge. No doubt Liverpool will have to play well as City haven’t lost a home league game in their last 13 outings. All things considered, I’m going for a thrilling 2-2 draw, with goals from Mane and Firmino for the Red men.